After his mother dies, a 6-year-old English boy stows away on an ocean liner and embarks on a poignant voyage of discovery.
“When I got up the sea was pink,” says Frankie Walters, describing his first day aboard the Gloriana. Having found his mother, Patti, dead in their Southampton, England, home and unable to get his unsympathetic teacher, Miss Kenney, to believe him so that she could call the authorities, Frankie has run away from his school and snuck onto the ship. His plan is to go to France, find a police station, and ring his traveling salesman father, Len, but he soon discovers that the vessel is sailing to America. Readjusting his agenda, Frankie adapts to life at sea as a secret passenger, scrounging a piece of cheese from the pool deck and sleeping behind a pile of deck-chair mattresses. He staves off loneliness and panic attacks by counting—the ship’s 12 decks, sea gulls spotted (0)—and gradually making the acquaintance of a blind man named Gordon Knight and his guide dog, Alec. Narrated in turn by Frankie and the adults in his life, this eighth novel by British-born Canadian author Holdstock (The Hunter and the Wild Girl, 2018, etc.) is a moving tale about the invisibility children suffer when they are not heard and seen as their unique selves. Like Roddy Doyle in Paddy Clarke Ha Ha, Holdstock inhabits the mind of a bright, funny, and sensitive child through exuberant, playful language that doesn’t mask the darkness of his life. Frankie’s description of curling up on his dead mother’s lap is heart-rending. However, the final chapter with the adult Frankie, now Frank, as narrator feels a bit tacked on. The sudden shift in tone from little boy to middle-aged man is jarring.
An unforgettable story about one very special child.